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Macon superintendent concerned about student performance during pandemic

As students in Macon County returned to the classroom for the Spring semester last week Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin discussed how the pandemic is impacting student performance. 

When schools went virtual seemingly overnight in March 2020, teachers scrambled to adjust lessons for online learning. The abrupt change also meant that students without access to internet and ways to communicate virtually were without feasible options for online schooling. As a result of the struggle experienced across the state, the North Carolina Department of Instruction adjusted expectations at the end of school last year. 

However, when students returned this Fall, with time to plan how to connect virtually and school districts more prepared to handle virtual learning, even though students are not back in the classroom full-time, the state was clear at the same considerations wouldn’t be given for grades this Fall. Students completed state-mandated assessments before the Winter break, and many grades were finalized and available for the first time last week. These grades were one of the first big indicators as to how the pandemic has been impacting student’s performance. 

“As a result of the pandemic, many students are struggling academically,” said Dr. Baldwin. “We are very concerned about student performance as it relates to possible retentions within grade level, course retakes, and dropouts.”

With student performance struggling, Dr. Baldwin said the district is evaluating various programs and plans to make adjustments where needed. 

“We are currently developing plans for remediation and accelerated instruction in order to address academic shortfalls once the pandemic is behind us and our students and teachers can focus on teaching and learning,” said Dr. Baldwin.

The district had hired an additional virtual K-6 teacher, which shifted some K-6 classes.  However, she resigned Tuesday, January 5th due to personal reasons.  

“Hopefully, we will be able to find a replacement,” said Dr, Baldwin. 

Many schools have made adjustments to get students in the classroom as often as possible, while still following state mandates. 

As it stands, North Carolina allows K-5 students to attend school under Plan B, which allows for students to be in the classroom five days a week with moderate social distancing. Macon County has elected to have K-5 students in class four days a week to allow for deep cleaning and sanitizing of the schools on Friday, as well as time for teachers to address the needs of virtual students. 

Franklin High School altered their schedule for students this Fall to open Friday up as a student day, with Cohort A (students with last names A-L) and Cohort B (students with last names M-Z) rotating every other Friday. This allows students to have a mix of two days of in-person and three days virtual one week, then three days in person and two days virtual the next. 

Highlands School spent the first week after Winter Break with virtual learning but will return for in-person instruction four days a week on Monday, January 11, with Fridays remaining virtual for cleaning purposes. 

Nantahala School students have chosen to return to in-person instruction and like Highlands School, due to the size of Nantahala, all grades level will be able to attend in-person instruction. Nantahala will also now allow students this semester to attend classes for the full-week, no longer closing on Fridays. 

Macon Early College is also Abel to meet the social distancing protocols and have all students attend classes five days a week. However MEC students dual enroll in classes at Southwestern Community College, which remains virtual this semester. 

Last week, the state’s Department of Public Instruction estimated the whereabouts of less than 1% of the roughly 1.5 million students in the state system is unknown.

After the state reported that at least 10,000 North Carolina public school students are unaccounted for amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Baldwin said that Macon County does have some students unaccounted for locally. 

“A number of students are unaccounted for this school year,” said Dr. Baldwin. “Our administrators, guidance counselors, social workers, and teachers have worked tirelessly to identify the location of as many of these students as possible and have been able to account for many of the students.  However, a number of students remain unaccounted for at the time of this writing”

A student is unaccounted for when a school has lost contact with a student, often because the student dropped out without alerting the school or moved elsewhere without the parent notifying the school or responding to repeated requests to get their kid back in class.

If a student misses at least 10 consecutive days of school in North Carolina, they are typically unenrolled, and the school works to account for them. The education department said in a statement that “unaccounted for” doesn’t necessarily mean the school doesn’t know where a student is or that the student is in danger.

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